Produced and shot over lockdown, this is the first project from writer/director Sam Levinson since the release of his acclaimed HBO series ‘Euphoria’ and sees him once again team up with rising star Zendaya, who appears here alongside John David Washington. The story focuses solely on two characters, Malcolm (Washington) an up and coming filmmaker and Marie (Zendaya) his long term partner.
Having arrived home after the premiere of Malcolm’s new film it soon becomes clear that things are not at all well between the couple. Malcolm has failed to thank Marie in a speech and this proves to be the catalyst for an argument that runs through the night. As we spend more time with the couple, its evident that their relationship as larger issues and Malcolm is revealed to be something of a controlling and verbally abusive character. The ongoing argument runs through the film and the on again off again nature of the conversation does unfortunately feel repetitive and may you leave with the feeling that film has said all it has to say in the opening half hour, Malcolm and Marie ultimately may have been more effective as a short film.
The performances though are strong, the pair undoubtedly have on screen chemistry and they are certainly watchable together but Zendaya gives the stronger more grounded performance of the two. Washington is certainly a presence on screen but at times his performance seems dialled all the way up to eleven and its a little off kilter with what the film is trying to achieve. It’s a strong turn but at times feels a little too theatrical for the material.
The bigger problem though is with the dialogue. Whilst there is some ‘clever’ writing on offer here the characters don’t speak in a believable way, it’s all very verbose but feels like the film is trying too hard to impress. Couples (especially after a night out) just don’t argue like this and it leaves the audience struggling to connect with characters that already weren’t easy to like.
Another big problem is that the relationship between the characters all too often plays second fiddle to Sam Levinson himself. The writer/director at times seems desperate to share his film knowledge and gripes with film critics through the protestations of the Malcolm character. The result is a script that sounds more like the literal voice of the filmmaker and not of his characters. It further stretches the film’s plausibility, at best it’s not interesting to a wide audience, at worst its self-indulgent. Either way it’s a distraction from what should be the heart of the film and leaves what could have been an emotional powerhouse of a film feeling somewhat cold and clinical.
From a visual perspective things are certainly more positive though, the film is beautifully shot on 35mm film stock and presented in stylish black & white. At times it feels a little too much like an advert but there some great moments of cinematography littered throughout. Its certainly novel to see some film grain on a Netflix presentation, it adds some much needed character to a film that can often feel cold and emotionless.
Ultimately though it’s this lack of emotion that scuppers Malcolm and Marie. It is worth a look for the visuals certainly but outside of that it proves to be a hard film to like and that’s a shame as the talented young cast definitely deserve better than this.
Author: Paul, Bath store